Holyrood and Westminster both re-open for business this week, while Kezia Dugdale’s shock resignation as Labour leader brought silly season to an abrupt, premature end. One by one, Scottish Labour’s most prominent and promising figures ruled themselves out of the running to replace her, leaving what we now expect will be a two-horse race between Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard. It’s unlikely but very possible that other candidates could emerge over the coming days. Figures who have already ruled themselves out might look at the field of play and decide they fancy their chances after all. We won’t have any concrete information on the timescale or protocol for the election until the end of the week at the earliest, with Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee meeting to decide such details on Saturday.
The first week of the Holyrood session will be dominated by the Programme for Government, to be presented to the Chamber on Tuesday. It is expected to include 16 bills covering education, health, justice, the environment and housing. For Nicola Sturgeon, this is an opportunity to reclaim the initiative and make a fresh start after a bruising few months, and signals the beginning of the much touted “relaunch” of her government.
It also marks the beginning of Ruth Davidson’s long manoeuvre into position for a run at Bute House in 2021, which arguably got underway with her speech at the IPPR on Friday. Immediately following the First Minister’s speech, the opposition party leaders will give their responses before wider debate on the Programme on both Wednesday and Thursday. It’s worth noting that the PfG does not have to pass a vote in the chamber. Tuesday will be rounded off with a Members’ Business on the centenary of the Boys’ Brigade junior section hosted by Alexander Stewart.
Wednesday will see Portfolio Questions for the Finance & Constitution and Economy, Jobs & Fair Work teams before a Members’ Business from Christine Grahame on an intergenerational community project in her constituency. The first FMQs of the new session take place on Thursday – it’s sure to be a fiery one with all the main parties looking to score points and get on the front foot early in the session. Elsewhere, the Equalities & Human Rights Committee will hear evidence on prisoner voting.
Speculation continues to mount that Nicola Sturgeon will commit to a reshuffle to mark the new session and inject some energy into her relaunch. Jeane Freeman and Humza Yousaf have been tipped for promotion while Fiona Hyslop’s neck could be on the line. Whether or not that materialises, it’s sure to be a packed week.
Spare a thought in all this for Alex Rowley. This week, Labour’s acting leader has to take the reins of his party on almost zero notice, respond to the Programme for Government, step up to the FMQs mantle and then sit on the SEC meeting on Saturday to plan the leadership election. Oh, and he’s hosting a Members’ Business on Thursday too. Good luck, Alex.
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